Green and Gold and Gray

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 7:30am

In the morning my dog lies on my bed, her nose to the open, west-facing window, watching, waiting for a sign of activity on the road that bisects my front lot.

Sometimes it is only an early deer, or five, that catches her attention and after a brief “are you sure you don't want to come?” wag of her tail she is bounding down the stairs and through the house, returning with big wet feet. Later, she'll run off barking a greeting, coming back inside to assure me all is well.

It is five years ago this week that a friend drove me to the northern border of Massachusetts, to fetch a puppy, a pale fluff ball I had seen only on a home video of children trying to bathe her and her squirming litter mates in their summertime yard.

They were a quarter Bernese mountain dog, and while some had those dark distinctive markings more were solidly pale, looking more of the golden retriever that comprised three-quarters of their DNA. There were but a few degrees of separation between the owners and me so it seemed a safe chain; I wasn't getting a puppy bred in some bunker, sold by an evil front man.

She was named, my Autumn, before I met her, as soon as I knew the only day the rapidly diminishing boat schedule would accommodate the long round trip was Sunday, which happened, that year, to be the day of the Autumnal Equinox. We thought we'd be back in time to get me on the three o'clock boat home but a few wrong turns, and lunch, and a stop at the Dollar Store, once the reality of having this little animal to feed and manage hit me, altered that plan.

I had been anxious about making the long drive on my own, afraid the new puppy would be troublesome, but she was lulled to sleep by a morning of activity and the motion of the car. The last boat was nearly empty when my amazingly still-sleepy creature and I boarded, and when we landed in the chilly dark of the first night of fall five years ago.

Fall is always an abyss, I feel it closing as the sun rises later and sets earlier even in the waning last days of true summer. It was the best time to get a puppy, when the days were cooler and the traffic in town slowed but not completely evaporated. She came with me and sat on an old sweatshirt on the sidewalk and enchanted passers-by.

The next spring people would ask, crestfallen, “Where's the puppy?” a great example of this world of seasonal expectation in which we live our lives, this odd place where there is an illusion of time standing still, the penultimate out-of-sight-out-of-mind illustration.

Somehow, in spite of coming into a darkness worse than even I saw coming, she stayed a sweet, gentle dog, along the way chomping all the things puppies chomp. I thought it was that she sensed my absence, but she was a baby and eventually I found my “and then she ate. . .” stories paled against so many others. There are yet things I try to remember to keep out of her reach when I leave her alone, but who can blame anyone for snatching a peanut butter cookie if it is within reach and no one, absolutely no one, is looking?

Today, she has decided her job is alerting me of the lumber truck making a delivery on Mansion Road. This is the same dog, I recall, who stayed in place on the living room floor when a complete stranger walked around the yard, the insurance guy who failed to text me of his impending arrival as he had promised.

My sentry, perhaps, but not my guard dog...

It rained yesterday afternoon, not a lengthy downpour but enough to darken the shingles on the west-facing side of the house. It was nothing like what had been forecast, the remnant of a hurricane that came inland down south and arced back out to sea north of us. The temperature was warm, too warm for the closed windows which I reopened as soon as the storm passed, soon enough that little drops of water hung from the bottoms of them. It all was green and gold and gray outside, the land looking more alive than it will when the sun comes out and the burnished leaves show their acceptance of the coming of fall.

It was the tail of that devastating storm that came into the Carolinas last week, a raging, rain dumping, land-flooding hurricane. I was reminded of a conversation a number of years ago when at least two, perhaps more, of like weather systems created similar conditions, the most visually memorable the horror of farms flooded and drowned animals floating in lagoons of hog waste.

“You're lucky” a visitor from that region told me, “you don't get hurricanes.” I started to protest then backed down and later thought about what he had said and my reaction to it.

My father was here in the 1938 hurricane, when he came down the Mansion Road before a barn swept from its foundation and landed where he had been seconds earlier; both my parents remembered in a way I could not, a round of storms in the early 50s. It was not only the wild wind and the sudden sea that worried them; the air pressure dropped to an alarming level, more alarming, perhaps, because it could not be seen, only measured with an instrument. There were plenty of scares, and some hits, in the years following but nothing of that magnitude.

I realized, then, that I grew up in the shadows of those terrible storms born thousands of mile away, fed by the warm coastal waters of late summer, and came to believe any year we were not hit was an exception.

May this be another such year.